Replacing DeSean: Don’t sleep on Jeremy Maclin

Replacing DeSean: Don’t sleep on Jeremy Maclin

82 receptions, 1,332 yards receiving, nine touchdowns; that’s what the Philadelphia Eagles must replace in the NFL’s No. 2 offense after the release of DeSean Jackson. Where’s it supposed to come from? Not necessarily from any one player. In this four part series, we examine whose roles will increase as a result of the move.

Is it possible we’ve all forgotten how good Jeremy Maclin really is?

Up until last season, there was legitimate debate as to whether the 2009 first-round pick is actually a superior all-around wide receiver to DeSean Jackson. There was even some chatter that Maclin might be a better fit for Chip Kelly’s offense.

Then disaster struck. Maclin suffered a torn ACL early during the first full day of training camp. His season erased, the onus fell on Jackson to replace Maclin’s production.

In 2014, the shoe will be on the other foot. This time, Maclin is tasked with filling the void left by Jackson’s release.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand perfectly the concerns over hanging your hat on a No. 1 receiver coming off of knee surgery. And it is true that in the four seasons Maclin has been on the field for, he’s never managed to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving—although he has reached 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

Let’s take the second concern first, that Maclin hasn’t passed some magical statistical baseline that separates the No. 1s from the No. 2s. Before we start making excuses for the guy, let’s look back on his breakout season of 2010.

Among wideouts, Maclin’s 70 receptions ranked 19th. His 964 yards ranked 18th. 10 touchdowns were tied for 7th. 13 receptions of 20-plus yards, t-21st. 45 receptions for first down, 19th.

Those numbers would’ve been good enough to make him a No. 1 receiver on half the teams in the league. In Philly, he was always kind of viewed as 1b with Jackson around. This could be Maclin’s chance to step out of the three-time Pro Bowler’s shadow.

So what happened the next two seasons?

Health issues partially derailed his 2011 campaign. A mysterious illness—at one point thought to be lymphoma—had Maclin laid up for most of the offseason and would cause him to miss training camp. He was in uniform Week 1, but had lost weight and muscle mass in the meantime. An injury cost him three games later on as well.

All things considered, Maclin still posted a quality line with 63 receptions, 859 yards and five touchdowns. He was on pace to break 1,000 had he played all 16 games.

2012 wasn’t merely a disappointing season for Maclin. The Eagles finally bottomed out under Andy Reid, a 4-12 record resulting in the head coach’s firing after 14 years. The offense regressed as Jackson, All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, starting quarterback Michael Vick and three members of the offensive line all missed extensive time due to injuries.

Maclin still finished with 69 receptions, 857 yards and seven touchdown catches in 15 games, making him Philadelphia’s leader in all three categories.

Those figures aren’t going to make anybody forget about Jackson anytime soon. Then again, there is plenty of reason to believe Maclin could revert to his 2010 form under Kelly, if not exceed his breakout season entirely.

Why? Because practically everybody wearing midnight green (minus 30-year-old Jason Avant) posted some form of career high in Kelly’s offense during the head coach's first season on the Eagles sideline.

Jackson’s 82 catches and 1,332 were by far personal bests. Riley Cooper went from being a reserve who was in danger of being cut in training camp to viable No. 2 receiver. Brent Celek’s 15.7 yards per catch were 2.6 yards better than his previous high. McCoy won his first his NFL rushing championship. Nick Foles came out of nowhere to lead the league in passer rating.

It stands to reason Maclin would benefit from Kelly’s presence, too. Without Jackson there to take away targets, he’ll certainly have more opportunity than ever.

And, no, Maclin does not need the extra attention Jackson draws from defenses on the opposite side to be successful. Sure, Maclin is not quite as dangerous of a deep threat—although DBs would be wise not to sleep on his 4.4 speed—but he’s posted big days when Jackson was inactive in the past.

In the five games Jackson missed in 2012—four with Foles under center—Maclin recorded 28 receptions, 353 yards and three touchdowns. Project those numbers over a full season, and they work out to 89, 1,129 and nine.

It’s safe to say that kind of volume would go a long way toward replacing Jackson’s production.

Of course, there is still the issue of Maclin’s ACL. The truth is we have no real way of knowing how he’ll respond. What we do know is torn ACLs are not the career death sentence they once were, and most NFL players seem to recover fully even after experiencing more than one.

The fact that Maclin will only turn 26 this year should offer some hope, along with the knowledge that he will be 13 months into his rehabilitation by the time the season begins.

The good news is, as we’ll explore further in the coming days, it’s not all on Maclin to supplant Jackson’s production. That being said, as long as Maclin is healthy, it’s not as if every one of those 82 catches, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns suddenly disappeared from the offense. In terms of pure numbers, the Eagles may not miss Jackson as much as we think.

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

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Joel Embiid has been making the NBA look easy. Rookie of the Month honors, five double-doubles in 13 games, seven performances of 20 points or more … all having missed the last two years rehabbing from foot injuries.

Embiid, though, still is a player learning the league. Night’s like Monday’s lackluster showing are going to happen, even if it seemed unexpected against the struggling Denver Nuggets. 

“We’ve been used to seeing Jo have superhuman nights,” Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ 106-98 loss (see Instant Replay). “I thought Joel was down tonight.” 

Embiid tallied a total 16 points (5 for 15 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 5 for 6 from the line) with four rebounds, one assist, a career-high five blocks, three turnovers and three fouls in 25:32. 

He had a quiet first half with six points (2 for 5 from the field) and one rebound in 9:21. The biggest struggle came in the third quarter. Embiid scored a single point off a free throw and shot 0 for 6 from the floor. By the end of three, he was shooting 18.2 percent. 

The big man said he needed to be better at passing out of the double team. He committed two turnovers in the third. 

“I wasn’t getting to my spot and I wasn’t getting what I’m used to getting,” Embiid said of the first three quarters. “I’m going to go back and watch the tape and see what I did wrong.” 

Embiid bounced back for another Embiid-like offensive effort in the fourth. He dropped nine points off an efficient 3 for 4 shooting in 7:31. Still, it wasn’t enough. 

“I made a couple shots,” Embiid said. “It didn’t help us win, so I don’t think it matters.”

Brown noticed Embiid rushing his game. He also thought Embiid’s balance was off, something the big man has been dealing with all season as he continues to find his legs. 

Embiid will not play in Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies. It is part of his workload management in which he does not play both games of a back-to-back. Expect him to hone in on game film until his next matchup, and get back on the roller coaster that can be a first year in the NBA. 

“It's just part of a young man's growth,” Brown said. “It just happens. I don't think we need to read too deeply into it. I think, in many ways, to expect from time to time not as good of a performance as we have been used to is fair enough.”

Best of NHL: Bryan Rust notches hat trick as Pens score 8 in win

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Best of NHL: Bryan Rust notches hat trick as Pens score 8 in win

PITTSBURGH -- Bryan Rust had his first career hat trick, Sidney Crosby added his NHL-leading 17th goal and the Pittsburgh Penguins raced by the Ottawa Senators 8-5 on Monday night.

Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel each had a goal and two assists for Pittsburgh, and Matt Cullen and Justin Schultz also scored. The Penguins poured in six goals over the final 32 minutes after spotting the Senators a 4-2 lead. Matt Murray made 17 saves after coming in for an ineffective Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period.

Pittsburgh has won three straight overall and improved to 7-0-2 in its last nine against the Senators.

Matt Stone had a goal and two assists for Ottawa. Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Dion Phaneuf also scored for Ottawa, which lost in regulation for just the second time in its last eight games (see full recap).

Capitals rally late for OT win over Sabres
WASHINGTON -- Marcus Johansson scored the tying goal late in the third period and got the winner midway through overtime to lift the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.

The goals were Johansson's third and fourth in his last five games. He has 11 for the season.

Jay Beagle added the Capitals' first even-strength goal in three games, as Washington snapped a three-game losing skid. Braden Holtby made 31 saves in the victory, the Capitals second over the Sabres in an 11-day stretch.

Kyle Okposo scored his team-leading eighth goal of the season to give the Sabres the lead in the second period. Zemgus Girgensons also scored early for Buffalo, and Robin Lehner made 30 stops for the visitors (see full recap).

Blue Jackets sweep series from Coyotes
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sam Gagner had two goals and two assists to help the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Arizona Coyotes for the second time in three days, 4-1 on Monday night.

Nick Foligno and Zach Werensky also scored for the Blue Jackets, who won for the fourth straight time and ninth of their last 12. Columbus picked up its 500th win in franchise history in sweeping the two-game season series with the Coyotes.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 17 shots for Columbus.

Arizona backup goaltender Louis Domingue had 30 saves, two days after the Blue Jackets hammered starter Mike Smith with a franchise-record 60 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory in Phoenix.

Arizona struck first 9:28 into the game when Alex Goligoski fed a pass on a power play to Tobias Reider, who slammed it past Bobrovsky's glove side from between the circles (see full recap).